The appeal of this ravishing disc is twofold: one, the astonishing countertenor Damien Guillon, who we have perviously met in the Classical Explorer post on Masaaki Suzuki's incredibly powerful Bach St Matthew Passion and St John Passion; and two, the exploration of music by a number of fascinating composers, including two members of the Bach fanily, Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694) and Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703). Plus, the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704) is never less than intriguing, as we shall see.
The repertoire here, then, is incredibly valuable. We start with - and shall return to - Johann Heinrich Schmeltzer (c. 1623-1680). The two pieces here are nicely contrasting: firstly. a Serenata a Cinque, an instrumental piece that comments on "the sorrowful mourning for the death of Saint Carnival in the year 1667": at least, until his resurrection the next year! That "resurrection" is embedded in the music, in a joyful dance secction at its conclusion:
... and secondly, Schmeltzer's Lamento sopra la Morte Ferdinandi III (Lament on the death of Ferdinand III). Interestingly the musical gestures of the two pieces are not a million miles apart, but here we enter the realm of official, and therefore deep, mourning:
It's time for some voice. One of the most striking pieces on this excellent, profoundly moving disc is the dolorous Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte by Johann Christoph Bach, organist at Eisenach. To supplement the Alpha recording, here's a live performance in glorious surroundings from a concert in May 2019:
There's also some Biber that features the voice, and it's interesting to hear how those fast, florid lines one associates with the composer's writing for the violin violin translate to the voice in this impeccable performance:
A Toccata and a Ricercar by Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) act as a reminder of the fertile nature of that composer's musiic. He uses chromatic gestures in both of the keyboard pieces here (played by Céline Frisch on organ). Listening to the Froberger, one is reminded of the florid and adventuresome nature of his Harpsichord Suites. Try this Air and five variations on "Auff die Mayerin" that opens the G Major Suite (FbWV - Froberger Werk Verzeichnis, or Froberger Work Catalogue - 606):
I should perhaps mention that the rest of that Suite is well worth of investigation (Spotify links for the whole twofer below, as well as Amazon link for purchase). All four movements are actually based on the theme that forms the basis of the initial Theme and Variations: the final Sarabande ("Saraband II") is dignified and, at the same time, intensely beautiful.
Interesting to hear music by Christoph Bernard (1628-1692): I have previously worked with his musico-theoretical text, the rather ungainly-titled Tractatus compositionis augmentatus of around 1657, which offers a significant discussion of rhetoric in Baroque music (also called Affektenlehre: how musical gestures express emotions is a rather clumsy summary). Bernard's Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele? (Why are you sad, my soul?) is beautifully restrained, with carefully-placed use of organ.
A brave risk, and one that is fully vindicated by what we hear, is to put a solo violin piece by Biber at the end: the Passacaglia from the Rosenkranzsonaten (Rosary Sonatas), played incredibily by Café Zimmermann's leader, Pablo Valetti:
At the time of writing, Lamento is avabilable at a discounted price at Amazon: